Much as popular belief would lead you to believe, books can make or break societies, nations, and countries. The long list of banned books in India is sufficient proof, should you doubt this power. The question, however, arises is why are books banned? The answer is simple – books are banned because every society fears the power of written words as they challenge the unspoken norms and boundaries set by the society. Books have the power to convince readers that rigid rules and regulations of society are not facts, but commonly held beliefs that can and should essentially be challenged. While often the reasons for banning books are ‘officially’ in the interest of the general public, in reality, the actual reasons for banning books are societal conservatism, and lack of tolerance to new ideas. Below is a list of some of the most widely banned and controversial books to read:
- The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie has been consistently ranked as one of the most controversial books in India, as well as in the world. Today few remember, however, why was Satanic Verses banned? The story comprises of two long dream sequences which include a veiled attack on Mohamad – the Prophet of Islam, which offended Muslims around the world. It earned Rushdie death threats and an infamous fatwa by the Iranian Ayatollah. The good part, though was, it only made the book more famous and sent the book sales roaring.
- An Area of Darkness by V.S. Naipaul
An Area of Darkness is a classic example to understand why books are banned in India. Written by the Nobel winning novelist VS Naipaul, the travelogue is a scathing account of India which is dismissed as an area of darkness. The book offended sensibilities, as the criticism was perceived to be too harsh, and unmindful of the historical realities of colonialism. The book continues to be one of the most controversial books in India, as it elicits strong polarizing opinions.
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The Da Vinci Code is among the most controversial books on religion. It was banned in countries like Lebanon because it was deemed to be offensive to Christianity. The novel portrays Christ fathering a child with Mary Magdalene after marrying her. Irreverence towards a religious figure is one of the main reasons for banning books, and the book fell easily into that category.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov
Lolita written in 1955 can safely be considered one of the most controversial books to read. The novel’s protagonist Humbert Humbert is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl Dolores Haze. His private nickname for her is ‘Lolita’, and once he becomes her stepfather, he becomes sexually involved with her. The novel moves from tragedy to pathos as the emotional roller coaster takes grip of the reader.
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is one of the most banned books in the world, as it was banned in the US, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan not to mention the UK. The novel by DH Lawrence is the story of an upper-class lady and her sexual liaison with a working-class man. Its explicit description of sex made it one of the most controversial books to read during the era when sex was a great taboo.
- Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
Forever Amber, a novel published in 1944 was at one point one of the most controversial books to read, as it was banned for being indecent and pornographic. The novel depicts the story of an orphaned Amber St. Clare, who rises through the ranks of 17th century English society by sleeping with and/or marrying successively richer and more important men. All this while, she keeps her love for the one man she can never attain. The church called it an indecent novel, and so decks were cleared for its ban.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm is also one of the most banned books of all time. Apart from being banned in Russia on the grounds of being anti-communist, it is banned from schools in the United Arab Emirates for references to practices or actions that defy Arab or Islamic beliefs, such as pigs or alcohol. In China, the government decided to censor all online posts about or referring to Animal Farm. The novel is a satire on communism and features a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer. They hope to create a society where animals can be equal, free, and happy. Ultimately, however, the rebellion is betrayed, and the farm ends up in a state as bad as it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon.
- Lajja by Taslima Nasreen
Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja was banned in Bangladesh soon after its publication in 1993. The novel deftly weaves the tragedy of a Hindu family in the Muslim majority Bangladesh around the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India. The novel caused widespread outrage making it not only one of the most controversial books to read in Bangladesh, but also one of the most dangerous.
Whatever be the reasons for banning books, the readers must not take these bans at face value. Rather they should explore them, assess them and then judge them. It is in no small thanks to these books, that the lid was lifted off then taboo conversations like sexuality, which appear passé today, hardly raising an eyebrow of protest.